Engagin the Mystery

New Ways of Worship & Connection

By Robert Brody

We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NLT)

New Danville Mennonite Church has been on a journey to learn how to live out the Scriptures. In 1  Thessalonians 2:8, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them, as followers of Jesus, to engage in the mystery of God’s Good News.  New Danville has had a rich 300+ year history and, like many churches today, finds itself in a slow decline over the last few decades. 

More recently, with renewed vision and relationships, the church started to grow again, almost doubling in size. We sent people out to help with two other churches in our area who had also been struggling, and then the pandemic hit. Like so many other churches, our attendance dropped again. Even before the pandemic, we recognized that New Danville’s format was not a fit for everyone. The pandemic made us take a hard look at what really makes a church. 

Several years ago, a young adult approached me and told me they wanted to know more about God but found the church to be “creepy.” In order to make space for those who were not familiar with or attracted to our way of “doing” church, we decided to try something different. We invited a few young adults and their friends to a local restaurant to talk about God and what turned them off about church. 

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Out of that Motley Church was born. We’ve met in various locations over the years from restaurants to the church basement, and we’re now located at HUB 450 in Lancaster City.  In our current format, we have a meal together and then get into our topic for the night which is done in a very conversational format. 

Almost 30 people attend Motley Church. For some, it is their only church. For others, it augments their regular church time with a chance to reach new people in a different format than Sunday morning. We have children who attend and they sometimes go off into their own group; other times, they are part of the conversation with the adults. 

Everything has a “family meal” atmosphere. In fact, our bulletin is called “The Menu.” It has “Appetizers” which are opening questions everyone discusses while we are eating. Then there is the “Main Course” which is our Bible passage for the evening, followed by “Food for Thought” which includes guiding questions about the passage. Finally, there is the “Take Home Box” which usually includes a verse to memorize or action steps to take based on the lesson. 

What I find exciting at Motley is even though we have a diverse crowd (spiritually, politically, economically), all of whom are at different points in their spiritual journey, they have come to love and care for one another. They text each other almost daily with prayer requests and other information. It reminds me of what Paul told the Thessalonians. They are not just learning about God, they are learning how to love and live with one another. I find this to be the key to a healthy church: having people who really do share each other’s lives together. 

We like to call Motley Church “another expression” of New Danville Mennonite. It’s part of New Danville’s network but reaches a different crowd in a different way. We hope that there will be more. We are currently working with some young adults to start something in a local college town near us. It probably won’t look exactly like Motley Church. Each expression we create is tailored to meet the needs of those who attend. In this case, it’s more of a younger crowd, many of whom work in the service industry so we’ll look for ways to work with their lifestyle and schedules. For several summers one of our members has run a ministry called “Church in the Dirt” which takes place in a barn with horses and also includes a meal for people to share.

There is room for all kinds of churches big and small. At New Danville some of us feel that building a huge auditorium isn’t the way forward for us, (although we will, if need be). Rather we want to continue to develop various initiatives throughout our community. Each one having the advantage of being small and intimate, and yet having the resources of the collective network. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the body has many parts, each with its own function. Motley reaches people New Danville cannot, and New Danville provides resources (VBS, Youth Group, etc) that Motley cannot. This is the network we seek to develop.

Many people are speaking about the challenges we face in the world today, but with great challenges come great opportunities. For New Danville, doing all of these “different” forms of ministry has come at a cost and brought its own unique set of challenges. However, if it results in more people knowing Christ and participating in a community then it’s worth it. It should also be mentioned that we continue to change and evolve. Not everything we do works the way we think it will. Motley Church was originally called “The Sunday Night Grind” and has gone through several iterations. We keep moving forward and keep leaning into relationships. We do not let failure stop us. We “fall forward” learning from each expression experience.

My personal hope is that this network won’t grow just through New Danville, but that other churches will take on this mission. I see many churches that are Maintaining what they have, but I’m hoping more churches will consider some other “M” words: Morphing, Merging, Mothering, and Multiplying. It’s time for congregations to proactively look at how we are being the church and think of new ways to express our love for God and one another, including those currently outside of our community.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:37-38 (NIV)

Robert Brody is the Lead Pastor at New Danville Mennonite Church and currently serves as a Bishop in LMC encouraging new expressions of church. At the age of sixty, he continues to skateboard despite the advice of his doctor.

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